My small business tech crystal ball
Every new year over at my USA TODAY column, I do a two-part column in which I share the top small business trends coming down the pike for the next year. These insights are a mashup of the briefings, white papers, interviews, and expert opinions shared with me over the course of the year. Combined, they give me some insight into where things are headed.
For instance, last month I spent a day on the Microsoft campus, meeting with engineers and executives, learning about what the company is doing and planning for small business. It was fun and fascinating (to get your own briefing about the future of your business, let me suggest that you listen to my interview with Microsoft’s global VP of small business, David Smith.)
Not surprisingly, technology always plays an important part in my prognostications, and that is even truer this year. Simply put, the scope and assistance afforded to a typical small business from technology these days is truly astounding.
Here then, in no particular order, are some of the top tech trends I see coming our way in 2017:
The freelance economy is changing how you will work: One result of the Not-So-Great Recession is that a lot of companies decided that they didn’t need so many full-time workers, that they could get by with contractors and contingent employees.
And, by the same token, a lot of those ex-employees realized something too: Maybe they did not need that crummy job and jerk boss either. Joining the ranks of the self-employed, job sharing, and starting one’s own side-gig has become commonplace.
Combine that with a host of technological tools like Office 365 that allow people to work when, where, and how they want, and what you have is Freelance Nation; an economy where remote collaboration is enabled and encouraged.
Big data will improve small business: We have been hearing the drumbeat about big data for a few years now, but I have to say that I think that for most small businesses, it’s a faint beat. Big data has always seemed like an idea better suited to big businesses.
One of the things that is coming to a smartphone near you is a host of tools designed to give you actionable insights on the data your business generates. Whether it’s Microsoft’s PowerBI (Business Intelligence) or Staples’ Quick Wins app, or other similar dashboards, big businesses are betting big on big data for small business.
Content marketing is coming into its own: Think about how you used to make purchasing decisions: You would hear about a new product on TV or the radio, drive to a showroom to check it out, and then buy it and bring it home.
Think about how you make purchasing decisions now: You see a new product on social media or a blog or some other place online, check out the online reviews for it, compare prices on Amazon, see what social media has to say about it, and then buy it using e-commerce, expecting free shipping.
The thing to notice therefore is that today, the process begins with potential customers finding your product online. Yes, you can generate some buzz with pay-per-click ads, but you will have better results with social media. For instance, and they are not alone, Millennials trust User Generated Content the most when making purchasing decisions.
Other types of marketing should now therefore include a mix of podcasts, e-newsletters, webinars, live streaming, and blogs.
Security needs to become a priority: Consider these sobering statistics:
- Ransomware attacks were up 300% in 2016
- Cybercrime cost the global economy almost a half a trillion dollars last year, much of that coming from business
- 60% of all cybercrime is directed at small business
One of the interesting things I learned that day at Microsoft is just how serious big companies are taking small business security; for example, the unprecedented amount of security features built into Windows 10. Similarly, Carbonite recently launched an entire website dedicated to the threat of ransomware. Small business security is a priority for big business. Let’s hope small businesses take heed, because if they don’t, those sobering statistics could include them.
And that’s a wrap for Trends 2017!